France’s RFI sets Africa as new target audience but staff cuts lead to strike over change of direction

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RFI-Radio France International has been changing its audience priorities and has put Africa at the top of its list. But the organisation’s changed priorities mean job cuts and these have led to strikes, although these seem to have been poorly supported.

RFI has 46 millions listeners globally but could lose some with this new plan as it re-targets its resources. Six of RFI's foreign-language services, German, Polish, Romanian, Albanian, Laotian and Serbo-Croatian, will be shut down by the plan. Four others, Persian, Chinese, Russian and Vietnamese will have their broadcasts moved entirely online, a move unions object to, citing Internet censorship in the destination countries. RFI currently broadcasts in 20 languages, with only one, Turkish, exclusively on the web.The English service is the only service which is not threatened with job losses. RFI management says that the language services are outdated and were part of a Cold War effort to bring uncensored voices beyond the Iron Curtain in eastern Europe and south-east Asia. However, it has indentified Africa as its new target audience.

Four of RFI-Radio France International’s five trade unions called on all employees to walk-off the job start of May, demanding the scrapping of a management plan which would see the international radio network lose nearly a quarter of its workforce. Only 7% of all employees were reported to be on strike. The management team suggested laying off 206 out of just under 1,000 employees, while having plans to invest in new technologies in order to increase RoI and efficiency. The plan also mentions the possibility of hiring 34 new people once the firings have been completed.